The Ijaw Water Home is cultural tie to the Ijaw people of Nigeria's Niger Delta region. Due to the riverine and swampy nature of their environment in the south south states, they have over the years, established a perfect relationship with the rivers that surround them.
Because of their attachment to rivers, the Ijaw cultural, social, economic and religious lives are defined and influenced by water.According to some Ijaw elders, "water is friendlier to the Ijaw people," however, every Ijaw is expected to be a good swimmer so he or she can survive capsizing of boats when it happens.
Everything about the Ijaws is interrelated with water. "Unlike in the north where they dance like antelopes, the Ijaws dance like fishes. Their dance steps are like the movements of the fish and the wagging of their tails in the waters.
The Ijaw masquerades usually wear heads of the fishes. All festivals have their origins from water. Ways of life are influenced by the environment which is surrounded by water."
The lineage of the Ijaw people is traced to Benin in Edo State, where they migrated from and settled in Yenagoa, where they fish in the region's waters and engage in little farming. "The Ijaw culture and customs are water dominated. This is because God has blessed them with water. They are fishermen and also do a little farming.
Yearly festivals are also water related. One of such festivals is the Obunem festival. It is related to the beginning of floods. It is the time farmers are bringing their food stuffs from the creeks and when the waters are overflowing farmlands," he said. The yearly Obunem festival, is celebrated from the 26th of June to the first week of July. It is characterized by the paddling of the Ijaw ceremonial boat regattas accompanied with all night singing and dancing, with women dressed in colorful attires and presentation of gifts to community leaders and clan heads.
The bigger event is celebrated by all the communities at a designated community with overall paramount rulers. Boat regattas as part of Ijaw festivities, symbolizes "the early days when their forefathers used to go to war in the waters so as to conquer neighbouring communities and make them their slaves. There are two types of boat regattas: the ceremonial boat regatta and the war boat regatta.
The Ijaw war boat regattas are painted black to attack neighbouring villages. The attackers are also painted in black charcoal as a form of camouflage.
"Canons are put in the boats. A small traditional pot is usually tied to the rear- end of the war boat, which dangles from one point to the other. As the boat passes by a community, the warriors challenge member of that community to dare them by cutting the rope that holds the dangling pot at the rear of the boat. Somebody from the community swims across to cut the rope signifying the beginning of the war. If you don't want war, they simply allow the boat to pass to the next communities,".
The ceremonial boat regattas on the other hand, are usually colourfully decorated and have a tail similar to that of the fish and are also used for marriage ceremonies, annual festivities and carnivals to showcase the culture of the Ijaw man.
Another event celebrated by the Ijaws is the Ogori (Leopard) festival. "There was an animal which was a spiritual leopard that had killed and tormented the Ijaw people in those days.
One Ijaw man killed that animal and today we do the Ogori celebration to commemorate the killing of the leopard.It is celebrated by jubilations in different communities, dramatization of the fight, boat regattas and shooting of canons and dances. The Ijaws have a lot of idioms and proverbs which are water inclined. One popular Ijaw proverb goes thus: "when you see a hippopotamus pursuing a canoe in the river, it is not actually interested in the canoe, but what is inside the canoe. As soon as the person insight jumps into the water, that ends the pursuit.
A common proverbial saying among the Ijaws is that: One does not get annoyed with a bad canoe when you are inside it. Meaning you cannot say let me do away with the canoe because it is bad in the middle of the sea until you have a replacement or else one risks going down with it.
It is used when the people in the Ijaw community are becoming something else. Another proverb is that: no matter how tall the okro tree is, it cannot be taller than its owner. This is because at whatever time the owner wants to harvest it; he will bend the tree to cut off the fruits. The Ijaws use this idiom at a point a child is trying to go astray.
The economic strength of the Ijaw people lies in the rivers. Apart from oil exploration in the Ijaw land that has defined the economic future of not only the Ijaw people but Nigeria and its place in the world, everything inside and around the Ijaw water is of huge economic value.
•Culled from www.pointernewsonline.com